Emmi Whitehorse


As an artist I have intentionally avoided politically oriented subject matter and angst-ridden or physical wrestling with the act of painting itself. To make art, the act of making art must stay true to a harmonious balance of beauty, nature, humanity and the whole universe. This is in accordance with Navajo philosophy. I have chosen to focus on nature, on landscape.

My paintings tell the story of knowing land over time – of being completely, microcosmically within a place. I am defining a particular space, describing a particular place. They are purposefully meditative and mean to be seen slowly. The intricate language of symbols refer to specific plants, people and experiences.

These images float in and out of awareness. My childhood was spent playing and tending sheep in a landscape that seemed magical and endless. I hope one notices the paintings reflect these sensory impressions of long days passed amid the land’s vastness – days spent noticing the subtle fluctuations of light, the perpetual changes in color and the fleeting shift of elements from prominence one moment to obscurity the next. This knowledge has thoroughly shaped my frame of mind.

Beginning in 1999, the paintings became more non-referential in imagery, instead relying more heavily on pure sensory response. The new works are about water, about a sense of surfacing from the water, about capturing an elusive ethereal vapor, about capturing liquid mass. Red is the predominant color in much of this work, and while red is not a color usually associated with water, it is in the region where I live and so I use this color. Over time sharp geometric shapes have given way to imagery of animals and birds to a personal alphabet-like cipher or code that has entered the picture plane, but the focus remains the landscape, which has been expanded through my travels here and abroad.

My work is about and has always been about land, about being aware of our surroundings and appreciating the beauty of nature. I am concerned that we are no longer aware of those. The calm and beauty that is in my work I hope serves as a reminder of what is underfoot, of the exchange we make with nature. Light, space and color are the axis around which my work evolves.

-Emmi Whitehorse